Foraging in March for Britain’s Wild Foods.

The pink flushed buds and orange-tipped stamens of cherry plum help to distinguish it from its close relative, blackthorn.

At-a-glance UK wild food guide to foraging in March.

 

Foraging in March starts to get me really excited, because the long winter wait for abundant fresh new growth is almost over… almost!

Hopefully, by the time we reach the spring equinox, with the days and nights of equal length, we are able to pick and choose from many dozens of wild plants. We also know that summer is only three months away.

So, now we are rapidly returning to one of the busiest times of the foraging year (unless that is, we are experiencing bitterly cold ‘beast from the east’ winds and its associated snowy conditions).

As ever, the weather in Britain is extremely changeable and dominates what we will or won’t be foraging.

If you have watched my video on violet flowers then you will know some plants react in their developmental stages solely to daylength, rather than temperatures.

This means we will generally find them doing their thing, pretty much right on cue, no matter the weather. Other plants are the opposite and will be slowed and checked by low temperatures. 

One of the finest flavours for me at this time of year will be found on the flowering currant…a plant I immediately started calling the ‘thyme n sage’ currant a few years back, for reasons that will soon become apparent.

None of the following March plants are too tricky to identify, especially when using my handy, waterproof, field-guide style, I/D cards. These pocket-sized cards should help fine tune your field skills, and make you more confident when identifying unknown plants in the wild.

Learning the easy-to-remember plant family patterns in part one and part two of  my ‘how to identify plants articles will also increase your abilities to positively I/D plants when out foraging this spring. As will knowing Britain’s poisonous and toxic plants.

So then, what plants can be easily found when foraging in March?

Wild food foraging in March

Get stuck in with these nine tasty wild plants to find and try! Beginners can be helped on their way with my guide to starting out on your foraging journey.

To help you and the plants, there is a basket full of useful harvesting tips and tricks that can be accessed here.

 

Wild chervil  (Anthriscus sylvestris) Apiaceae family.

wild chervil is so common that it is practically unavoidable when you are out foraging in March
Wild chervil is practically unavoidable when you are out foraging in March.

The tender young pre-flowering stems of wild chervil are one of my all time favourite wild food trail snacks. This full length article shows how to confidently identify this most common of all our wild umbellifers.

Common hogweed  (Heracleum sphondylium) Apiaceae family.

For me hogweed is one of the yearly foraging treats, and a plant that should be abundant by the end of March.
Hogweed is one of the yearly foraging treats, and should be abundant by the end of March.

Another fantastic wild vegetable that you can find in abundance when foraging in March. The young leaf stalks are a truly delicious wild food, as Roger Phillips mentions in his classic “Wild Food” book, now reprinted as a hardback.

Hogweed can easily be found and identified all over the country, and provides numerous other tasty plant parts during the year. Watch this space for an upcoming full length article!

 

Nettles (Urtica dioica) Urticaceae family.

Nettles appear in.huge numbbers during March, and the top sets of leaves are used.
Nettles start to appear in huge numbers during March. The top two sets of leaves are best.

 

This is a brilliant wild plant. Not only is it a nutritious food and valuable medicine, it is great when made into a liquid manure for the garden, as well as providing strong fibres to make an excellent string and rope substitute.

Known by everyone, nettles will never be hard to find. This is a fantastic plant that has a high nutritional content, being rich in iron, protein, Vitamin E and calcium, amongst others.

As a food it makes a great cooked green. Try replacing spinach with nettles in a saag aloo, and have a go at using the leaves to make a crisp, refreshing, and tasty beer.

As a medicine nettles can help pregnant and breast feeding mums keep their own mineral levels up. For us men, it can keep the prostate healthy, as my upcoming article will reveal.

Clove root / wood avens (Geum urbanum) Rosaceae family.

Clove root is easy to find when foraging in March. You will need landowner's permission to harvest roots, which need to be used fresh.
Clove root is easy to find when foraging in March. The aromatic, fibrous roots need to be used fresh.

This small herb has roots with big flavour. You can find the plant growing happily over winter. During the colder months it grows as rosettes, both in woodlands, and in any available nook and cranny in the urban environment.

March is likely to be the last good month in which you will be able to harvest its aromatic fibrous roots as it will begin to flower during April and May. Due to the magic of plant chemistry, these thin, creamy white roots smell very similar to cloves. This warming flavour can only be captured when the roots are fresh. Once dried, the flavour all but disappears.

 

Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum) Apiaceae family.

Àlexanders stems need to be harvested before the flower buds open, while the stems are tender.
Harvest alexanders stems before the flower buds open, while they are tender.

Such a versatile and welcome wild food, as my recent article showed. As this is an invasive plant, you shouldn’t have any problem getting landowner’s permission to uproot the plant in winter, for its large taproot, if you wanted to.

Try making rhubarb and alexanders jam from the tender young pre-flowering stems. Quite how they combine to develop such an exquisite and unique flavour I don’t know! The taste of this jam is similar to kiwi fruit or watermelon !

 

Cleavers / Goosegrass / Stickywilly (Galium aparine) Rubiaceae family.

The top whorl of leaves of cleavers can be added to soups and stews. The rest is to stringy.
Only the top whorl of leaves of cleavers are worth adding to soups and stews.

You may have already read about this plant’s long-standing traditional medicinal benefits. Herbalists know it as one of the best spring tonics there is. Cleavers acts on the lymphatic system, helping to rid the body of accumulated waste products that can build up over the winter months when we are more sedate.

Pick all of the above ground parts for medicine, but only the very top whorl of leaves for food, unless you can be bothered to strip off the leaves. This is because the plant quickly gets fibrous and inedible.

 

Rosebay and greater willow herbs (Chamerion angustifolium / Epilobium hirsutum)  Onagraceae family.

Willowherbs begin re-appearing from their perennial roots during March.

Either the rosebay or greater willow herb shoots can be used, although the flavour of rosebay is less astringent. Greater willowherb has square stems, and opposite leaves. The rosebay has round stems and a spiralling leaf arrangement. Remove the shoot by cutting with a knife, an inch or so below ground. Strip the leaves off before using. Try steaming, frying, or lacto-fermenting. 

Cherry plum blossom (Prunus cerasifera) Rosaceae family.

The pink flushed buds and orange-tipped stamens of cherry plum help to distinguish it from its close relative, blackthorn.
The pink flushed buds and orange-tipped stamens of cherry plum.

One of two beautifully almond-scented Prunus species available, as we turn into March.  The cherry plum has pink flushed flower buds, and sometimes very pink petals and orange tipped stamens. Compare this to the white petals and yellow tipped stamens displayed currently on blackthorn flowers.

Blackthorn flowers showing their yellow-tipped stamens.

 

Silver birch sap and twigs. (Betula pendula) Betulaceae family.

Silver birch offers plentiful supplies of sap to tap in early spring
Silver birch offers plentiful supplies of sap to tap in early spring.

My travelling lifestyle has usually meant me not having many possessions and nowhere to store them close to where I live. So I have yet to tap birch. For a fantastic appraisal on the pro’s and cons of tapping birch, and the alternative method of using the thinner branches, instead of drilling invasive holes into the trunk, take a look at the one and only ‘Fergus the forager’s’ article.

March mushroom of the month

Oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus)

An easy to I/d edible mushroom, although there are a number of closely related edible species in the genus Pleurotus.

This fine edible mushroom can be found all year round, and it’s often easier to find when there isn’t so much else growing.

Being a bracket fungus, you will probably find it ‘shelving’, with one fruiting body directly above another, on both the standing and fallen trunks and boughs.

The oyster mushroom cap is grey and its closely spaced gills are creamy white. It can easily grow as large as your hand. The spore print should be white.

 

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